In this instalment of our 12 part series on Military blueprints, we look at the German M35 Helmet.
At the start of the First World War none of the combatants were issued any form of head protection beyond leather or cloth caps. With the advent of trench warfare the number of casualties on all sides suffering from severe head wounds (more often caused by shrapnel bullets or shell fragments than by gunfire) increased dramatically, since the head was typically the most exposed part of the body when in a trench. The French were the first to issue protection, with the Adrian helmet in 1915. The British followed soon after with the Brodie helmet and the Germans with the Stahlhelm.
Dr Friedrich Schwerd had performed a study of head wounds from the trenches and submitted a recommendation for steel helmets. He was later given the task of designing and producing a suitable helmet. He broadly based his design upon the medieval sallet helmet, which provided good protection for the head and neck. After a lengthy development and testing period, the first helmets were distributed to troops at Verdun in early 1916. This led to a drastic reduction in serious head injuries.
In contrast to the Hadfield steel used in the British Brodie helmet, the Germans used a harder martensitic silicon/nickel steel. As a result, and also due to the helmet’s form, the Stahlhelm had to be formed in heated dies at a greater unit cost than the British helmet, which could be formed in one piece. It had large horn like ventilator holes for mounting an additional steel plate, which was used by snipers and trench raiders.
In 1934 tests began on improving the Stahlhelm from the First World War models. The new helmet was pressed from sheets of molybdenum steel in several stages. The size of the flared visor and skirt was reduced, and the large projecting lugs for the obsolete armour shield were eliminated. The ventilator holes were retained, but were set in smaller hollow rivets mounted to the helmet’s shell. The edges of the shell were rolled over, creating a smooth edge along the helmet. Finally, a completely new leather suspension, or liner, was incorporated that greatly improved the helmet’s safety, adjustability, and comfort for each wearer. These improvements made the new M1935 helmet lighter, more compact, and more comfortable to wear than the previous designs.
The new helmet was officially adopted by the Wehrmacht in June 1935. More than 1 million were produced in the first two years and several million more in the years up to 1940.
To simplify construction, several changes were made in 1940. The manufacturing process now incorporated more automated stamping methods. The principal change was to stamp the ventilator hole mounts directly onto the shell, rather than utilising separate fittings. These changes lead to collectors referring to the helmet as M40 although the Germans still called the new helmet the M35.
Later, in 1942, more changes were made to save resources and increase manufacturing speed. The rolled edge on the shell was eliminated, creating an unfinished edge along the rim. This edge slightly flared out, along the base of the skirt. In addition, helmet decals were no longer applied in order to reduce combat visibility. Although soldiers would often add decals in the field. Manufacturing flaws were more prevalent in the M42 as the war progressed.
Outside of Germany
The iconic Stahlhelm was also used by numerous militaries in South America for much of the 20th century. It was the principal helmet of the Chinese Nationalist Army during WW2 and the Chinese Civil War. During WW2 they were given to German allies such as Hungary and Finland. Resistance and partisan groups made extensive use of captured German helmets.
Modern Kevlar helmets bear a striking resemblance to the Stahlhelm as it offers a great degree of protection. Usually with enlarged ear cover to accommodate headphones.